Like so many office workers across the country, I’ve recently been asked to practice social distancing and work from home. I’ve been following the news, of course, as the coronavirus spreads all over the world and impacts one nation after another, so I’ve been prepared for this reality to hit for a while now.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I would do when it comes time to work from home and to be honest, I was pretty excited for it! I’ve done some research about work from home productivity, and even fantasized about waking up, making my morning coffee and getting right to work in the comfort of my PJs.
The most frustrating part of working by far is the morning and evening commute. Because of traffic where I live, I’ll spend at least an extra hour per day just sitting through traffic — and for people who live in major urban centers like LA, it can be even worse…some of my friends say they’ve sat through up to 2 hours of traffic one way!
Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, that’s extra time I’m spending away from my home, away from family and friends, and it’s unpaid. I’ve always wondered why I can’t just do the same work I do in the office at home, with modern technological solutions like Slack and Trello making it possible to collaborate on large projects remotely.
However, now that I’ve been working at home for the past couple weeks, I’ve realized it isn’t quite the rosy picture I had in mind. Though I’ve adjusted and adapted to this new reality, I was surprised by some of the challenges I’ve encountered. Fortunately, I’ve found some fantastic solutions as well!
Challenge #1: No Face to Face Interactions
This may seem like an obvious factor when working from home vs working in an office, however, I wasn’t expecting it to make such a tremendous impact on the work I do. I didn’t realize just how much I took face-to-face interactions for granted.
The lack of human interaction has two effects: first, without a proper communication replacement, it makes quick questions that I could normally ask with ease in the office more of an extended process via email. Fortunately my office has adopted Slack as our primary communication method and made messaging back and forth much quicker than long email chains.
Secondly, part from the practical side of things, being alone at home all day can be, well, lonely. It’s taken some effort on my part, but I’ve managed to set up lunch meetups with some of my coworkers throughout the week. We don’t even talk about work so much, as I think we’re all more or less in the same boat and simply craving human interaction. This has been a great way to keep in touch with my team and check in more tangibly than any technological solution makes possible.
Challenge #2: Avoiding Distractions
This was a big factor in my workflow that I did not readily anticipate: home can be so full of distractions!
For people without pets, this might be less of an issue. However, my lil pupper can barely contain his excitement at having me home all the time, and constantly seeks my attention. I’m home all day, so it must be play time!
Fortunately I’ve found ways to balance my workflow with small breaks to keep my puppy occupied, however you’ll need to figure out what works best for you. For added structure, you can use Tomato Timer to schedule your breaks and take the guesswork out of whether you’re spending enough time working or playing.
The nice thing about working from home is you can start sooner and end sooner, or start later and end later. Some of my colleagues have mentioned that they like taking longer afternoon breaks so they can hit the gym midday and get an energy boost to carry them through to the evening.
Challenge #3: Work Environment
Beyond taking breaks, just having a focused work environment can make a big difference. And it actually matches what many experts have long argued; that your surroundings can make or break your ability to focus and stay productive, and even affect your mood.
When I first started working from home, I actually spread out on my bed and kept my laptop and papers scattered all over my mattress. Initially I was excited at how comfortably I might be able to work, but eventually I realized this strategy was neither ergonomic nor helpful for my productivity.
I eventually decided to invest in some sensible, affordable ergonomic office furniture to set up a minimalistic and discreet but comfortable home office in the corner of my bedroom. Eventually I may try to move my office to a different room in my apartment to keep my personal and business spaces separate.
I’ve found that having an ergonomic office chair helps me avoid the back pain I experienced after awkwardly moving through uncomfortable positions on my bed (lying down would just make me feel sleepy). And I’ve been surprised at how much a standing desk has helped me at home! Sometimes I just need to get on my feet and move around to feel energized and focused. Having an adjustable-height desk has helped me alternate between sitting and standing depending on when I feel like being more active and when I just want to sit back and relax.
Takeaway: Is Work from Home Better or Worse?
Honestly, this is a tough question to answer. Though I enjoy the freedoms I have when I work from home, part of me wonders if I would benefit from having more of the structure and accountability of an office environment. I have, however, done some really good work from home that I’m proud of, and though it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve managed to keep focused on important projects with my team. We’ve mostly been able to keep up with our deadlines up until now.
I think the best answer is that it’s not really better or worse to work from home. It depends on your personality, your work style, your preferences, and of course the kind of job you have. If you have lots of self-discipline, that really helps. However, there are lots of apps and tools out there for those of us who need a little more guidance and help to stay focused.
Investing in ergonomic home office furniture has been one of the most surprisingly beneficial choices I’ve made and really helped me shift my mentality from simply lounging at home to taking my work seriously. There’s nothing like having a proper desk to make me feel like I’m in command and ready to knock out my tasks for the day.
What are some of your best work at home tips? Let me know in the comments below!